Would you believe me if I told you that a spinoff would not only rival the best film in the Rocky series but restore it to its former glory? That was the case in 2015 when Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler, was released the week of Thanksgiving. The unlikely spinoff centered on the son of Rocky’s rival and close friend Apollo Creed proved to be a major hit with critics and at the box office.
On this week’s roundtable, FilmEra staff look back at Ryan Coogler’s blockbuster hit starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, and Tessa Thompson.
While Ryan Coogler injects it with his own style and personality, Creed smartly sticks close to the tried and true Rocky formula. When executed correctly, it’s essentially undefeatable. There’s a twist to it, but it’s still the same underdog story we all know (and love). Not doing this was Rocky V’s biggest mistake, and it’s not one that Creed repeats. During the final round, when the classic Rocky theme comes in, Creed cements itself as more than a mere spinoff and becomes an integral part of the Rocky mythos. Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis is a worthy successor to the Italian Stallion, and it certainly also helps that Stallone brings his A game, just as he did with the excellent Rocky Balboa. As far as Creed II goes, it’s unfortunate that Coogler isn’t back in the director’s seat, and that honestly makes me be somewhat reserved about it. It’s supposedly a shameless Rocky IV sequel with Adonis facing against Drago Jr., and in that case, the only thing it needs to do to win me over is to have Adonis scream “DRAAAAAAGOOOOO!” from the top of a mountain.
Creed blew me away when I first watched it in theaters. I was already a fan of Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler after Fruitvale Station, but Creed sealed the deal in mind. The emotional beats were present, it had a classic Rocky training montage, and themes were all highlighted but made in a way for a newer generation. I firmly believe the success of this film is what helped lead to the reunion of Jordan and Coogler for Black Panther. I have no doubts that, even though Creed II is being directed by someone else, I will still love it.
The secret to Rocky is to always have the audience invested, so when the fights happen you feel every punch. Stallone’s imprint on the franchise was enormous, but the sequels started to lose something along the way. Coogler took the mythos and fleshed it out, but in truth, the film’s best moments were when it focused on Apollo and Bianca. The presence of Balboa is a blessing and legitimizes the film, but it’s everything original and personal that made Rocky work and it’s what made Creed work too. Jordan and Stallone worked to create intense performances and the ending fight is a perfect climax. It’s my favorite Balboa picture next to the first, and Creed II may borrow some of the more fantastic elements of the franchise, but I still see characters worth caring about. I can’t wait.
Unlike a lot of people, Creed’s success didn’t come as a surprise to me. As someone that was able to catch up with Fruitvale Station beforehand, I was eagerly anticipating the return to the Rocky franchise with Michael B. Jordan at the forefront and Coogler at the helm. Leading up to its release, however, I finally binged through the Rocky franchise for my first time. What I found was that the first film was certainly the best and then the following three sequels and Rocky Balboa were all very good and entertaining. So, by the time I got to Creed‘s opening weekend, my hype was very real. The movie exceeded my expectations and then some, highlighted by three incredibly captivating performances from Jordan, Thompson, and especially Sylvester Stallone, whom I thought should’ve won the Oscar that year for Supporting Actor. Coming away from that movie, the biggest winner was probably Ryan Coogler, who landed the director’s chair for Black Panther from Marvel. Of course, that movie was an even greater success for him and Michael B. Jordan alike. Unfortunately, Coogler did not opt to direct the sequel to Creed, and that has me very worried going into it. My hope for the film is that it will be reminiscent of the first Rocky sequel, in that it isn’t on the level of its predecessor, but still manages to be a fun time at the movies and a worthy continuation of the character. Given the charisma and on-screen chemistry of Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson alone, I don’t think this is too much to ask for.
Will Borger, Managing Editor
I was excited about Creed from the moment I saw the first trailer for the film. I didn’t know anything about Ryan Coogler – I hadn’t, and still haven’t seen Fruitvale Station, which I need to remedy – but I’ve been a fan of Michael B. Jordan since his performance as Vince Howard in Friday Night Lights. I’m also an enormous fan of the Rocky films, especially the original, II, III, and Rocky Balboa, so the whole thing just felt right, especially since it featured the return and blessing of Sylvester Stallone. I entered the theater with high hopes. I left vowing to see whatever Ryan Coogler made (both the direction and script are incredible and Coogler is responsible for both). The film also featured spectacular performances from Jordon, Tess Thompson, and Stallone, who returned to the role of Rocky like he’d never left it. The fact that he didn’t win Best Supporting Actor for Creed is a crime. But what really stands out about the original is the way it’s shot. The Rocky series is famous for how good its fights look, but Creed‘s were on a different level, emphasizing long takes and physicality in a way that was devastatingly good. I’ll admit that I’m slightly worried about Creed II; Coogler isn’t returning to direct and something tells me it won’t be as beautifully shot as the original. That fact that it’s also basically a direct sequel to the utterly silly Rocky IV doesn’t help. That said, I believe in Stallone’s ability to get these characters right in terms of script and in these actors. It probably won’t be as good as the original, but as long we have a compelling reason to watch Adonis return to the ring and we care about what happens when he gets there, that’ll be enough.
Creed II is in theaters nationwide November 21, 2018
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